Thursday, October 14, 2010
"Mangwanani, marara sei?"
"Mangwanani, marara sei?" I said to the Care Assistant in the Retirement Home, pleased when her response was a look of surprised pleasure before she responded with the words, "Mangwanani, ndarara.". There then ensued a brief exchange as to how I spoke her language, (although I only have a smattering of it left now).
The brief exchange meant a lot to her, working several thousands of mile away from her homeland, and I'm sure it was the last thing that she expected. All I had done was to say 'Good morning' to her, and ask whether she had slept well, her response to me being that she had, and yet the five words we exchanged would have brightened up the whole of her day. They had an effect on me as well, for here was someone who was able, merely by her presence and this brief exchange, to remind me of happy days spent in the warmth of the African sun when I lived in Rhodesia, later to become the present-day Zimbabwe.
Those few words of greeting reminded me of the many friendships, now consigned to the page of my personal history files, that I had enjoyed, from the days when, as a new immigrant to the then-named Rhodesia, I commenced work as the manager of CT Stores on the corner of First Street and Manica Road in what was then known as Salisbury. Like everything else about this amazing country, the name has been changed to Harare following Independence in 1980. Of course, the Independence that I refer to is that which the British finally granted after a long protracted terrorist war against all Rhodesians, black and white, during the UDI years of the Rhodesian Front.
My time working at CT Stores was not a happy one, and just like so many new immigrants that the company had been responsible for bringing out to the Country, I soon left after six months. Mind you, although six months is not very long, and certainly the shortest period that I ever remained in a job, I was far from holding any record. The shortest employment that I knew of was when a new employee left after only an hour, having entered the job via the First Street entrance and exited via the Manica Road entrance! Although the senior management is remembered for unpleasant reasons, I recall my fellow workers on the shop floor with nothing but pleasure, as indeed I do the majority of my customers, most of whom were indigenous Africans, with whom I found it easy to relate to.
The owner of the company, one Gerald Summerfield, was a parsimonious employer, and my first experience of his meanness was when I received my first pay-packet, considerably less than the amount which I had been employed for, his excuse being that there had been a reduction in the exchange rate between the Rhodesian dollar and the UK pound since he had granted me the position. I had begun my employment in the September of 1972, and so the period I was there included the busy Christmas period.
All the staff were required to work a considerable amount of overtime in the six week run-up to Christmas, and the General Manager, Fred Clarke, promised that the Christmas bonuses would reflect the extra work. The moment that the bonuses were paid out, or at least the moments when the staff opened the envelopes, will be imprinted forever on my memory. Sales staff that had put in the equivalent of perhaps two full weeks of overtime received a Christmas bonus of less than five dollars! My own bonus as the shop manager, having put in the same amount of extra time, was less than ten dollars! Neither before nor since have I come across such a display of arrogant meanness. I returned my bonus to Summerfield with the comment that he obviously needed the money more than I did. Clarke backed up the Company and there was no recall for the angrily disappointed staff.
Summerfield's rather odd wife, Sheena, used to swan in and out of the shop, fawning over the odd customer occasionally, although generally considering that the majority of both customers and staff were far beneath her. Her snobbishness was a strange trait for her to have, for when she married Summerfield she had apparently been working previously in some sort of strip club.
I recall the first time that I set eyes on her. It was on the afternoon of the day of my arrival in Rhodesia, and I wanted to go and make myself known to my new employer. When I entered the shop there was this rather odd-looking woman sitting on a chair opposite the doorway, dressed in blue satin pantaloons and white blouse, her make-up trowelled onto her face. I thought that she must be one of the local eccentrics, and you can imagine my surprise when she was introduced to me as my new employer's wife! Suffice to say that we never got on, and I was always unhappy when she 'graced' the shop with her presence, far preferring her to remain far away from the store.
However, things improved considerably the following year when I found a job with the Singer Sewing Machine Company, a job which I loved, and where most of my friendships in the country were formed. The years spent working for Singer were happy years for all the right reasons, and the memories which I have of that period of my life are generally happy ones.
Despite the privations caused by the spitefulness of Sanctions, (and despite which, most countries continued to trade with Rhodesia somewhat covertly, including the UK), it was a great country to be part of. Ian Douglas Smith, the Prime Minister, was a great man to head the government, and I had a great deal of respect for him. He was popular with the majority of people, both black and white. The terrorist war was never about colour, and all about power, as has been proven since by the despotic Mugabe and the manner in which the once-proud nation has been reduced to its knees.
Today, as my head swirls with the memories from those now-distant days, the overall feelings are good although tinged with sadness at what has happened over the intervening years to a nation and especially a people whom I loved and respected.